Green Infrastructure and Energy

In February the city of Austin was added to American Forests’ list of “Top 10 Best Cities for Urban Forests.”  The city beat out 40 of the most populous cities in the nation for its efforts in civic engagement, strategies in infrastructure, accessibility, health and condition, documented knowledge, and management of urban forests [1].  The award is good news for Austin considering the benefits of urban forestry as a part of green infrastructure (GI) which not only includes street trees, but also includes green roofs, green facades, permeable pavements, rain gardens, and stormwater treatment swales. 

GI is known for its ability to enhance storm-water management and water quality, improve human health by improving air quality and reducing UV exposure, reduce pavement maintenance costs via reduced deterioration, and increase property values.  Less well-known, however, is the potential green infrastructure has to reduce energy consumption.  

Urban trees, for example, have the potential to reduce energy use by providing shade, wind control, and active evaporation.  “Homeowners that properly place trees in their landscape can realize savings up to 58% on daytime air conditioning and as high as 65% for mobile homes,”[2]  Proper tree placement is important to achieve these savings so utilities have teamed up with urban foresters to promote programs such as “Plant the Right Tree in the Right Places.”  The following diagram provides recommendations from the Environmental Protection Agency for tree placement to maximize energy savings [3].

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Green roofs, on the other hand, have the potential to reduce energy consumption by lowering surface temperatures.  A comparison between a green roof and a conventional roof in Chicago, for example, showed a temperature of 169 degrees F on a conventional roof and a range from 91-119 degrees F on the same day on a green roof of an adjacent building [3].

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Unfortunately green infrastructure has gotten off to a slow start.  Traditional challenges have included underinvestment, a patchwork of uncoordinated efforts, the need for tailored solutions and the limits of sharing lessons learned, a lack of experience and dependency on public education, and the crossing of jurisdictional boundaries.  Despite these challenges many efforts across the United States are relying on both voluntary and policy initiatives in order to take advantage of GI benefits as part of an energy, air quality, water, and sustainability efforts [3]. 

[1] American Forests. “10 Best Cities for Urban Forests.” Web. February 2013. http://www.americanforests.org/our-programs/urbanforests/10-best-cities-for-urban-forests/

[2] Keep Indianapolis Beautiful, Inc. Benefits of Urban Trees. Web. 4 Apr. 2013.

[3] Reducing Urban Heat Islands: Compendium of Strategies. Environmental Protection Agency, 2013. Web. 18 Apr. 2013.

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